Like I had no bones is what I feel like when I think about sending my memoir out into the world in the coming months—like I had no bones and am utterly exposed. This week, in the days following an extensive and focused writing weekend for me, I am grieving the discomfort of vulnerability, and I am celebrating its contribution toward transformation.
I’ve felt like this two other times in my writing life: once, when I was in Collegeville, MN for the Collegeville Institute’s “Writing to Change the World Workshop”; and once, at a grant consultation for the Louisville Institute’s Pastoral Project in Louisville, KY. I will never forget the feeling of sitting around a table of people who had rich experiences, formed thoughts, published words and wondering how long it would take for me to be found out as someone who should not be there. At what point in the workshopping of my pieces will they discover that I am nothing more than an unpublished and boneless goof?
But when I think about my time in Michigan and Kentucky, they are Kairos moments for me where the smells, and the faces, and the big windows of my lodging remain crisp memories; they were formative. I became someone new in those spaces where my leaps of faith and creativity were simultaneously thrilling and upsetting. Pain came with that vulnerability, but also breakthroughs. At least, that has been the pattern thus far. And this is what I am holding onto today.
In December ‘17, I sent my first manuscript (which is due to my publisher in May’18) to twelve different friends throughout the country asking for their honest and loving feedback about the rawest version of the book that anyone would ever see. I pressed send in the hopes that their assessments would help me budge again. I needed a breakthrough for the flow that didn’t feel right, the style problems that I couldn’t put my finger on, and the conclusion. Oy, the conclusion . . .
I felt relieved even to have found the hours during this last year to write the contents of a book which could be sent in an email. I felt relieved and proud at first; and then I felt sick. Like Collegeville. Like Louisville. Like I could easily and willingly retreat into a hole for the winter, change my name to Frances, shave my head like Britney Spears did that one time, give up writing entirely and forever. I felt so vulnerable.
I felt exponentially more vulnerable when the responses started to pour in, and I began to shoulder the dread of how it might feel when the final file heads off to print and then out into the world. But today, as I fight those naked-in-public emotions, I remember that most moments that have mattered and grown me in my life have first felt unnerving. And then they often become hopeful, grateful, rich in people, and energized.
They often make me feel spurred-on and broken-through to some untapped level of myself. Almost so much so that it comes close to masking the sick feeling that accompanies exposure and critique. Maybe it does mask them.
And so, today I am contemplating how vulnerability is excruciating, but also how it brings breakthroughs. When I take the things by which I am stumped and in which I am stuck to people who will be honest and loving, it’s like climbing up on an open-heart-surgery table and a launching pad at the same time. The opportunity to bravely bare ourselves to each other feels like such a special process of life given to us by a God who brought humanity so much breakthrough by way of so much vulnerability. At the very least, I suppose we’re in good company when we share ourselves.
I’ll never shake how bare I felt in the roundtable at Collegeville or Louisville; I’ll probably not shake the dread that will lead up to book launch. But I’ll also never be able to un-know the person I became after–namely, a writer whose story is now more connected to the stories of others because she braved the sharing despite the risks. This gives me hope as I open my emails and melt into boneless mush all over again. A breakthrough is coming, that’s the pattern. Well, that’s the hope.
Here’s to the opportunities we have to be vulnerable this week, to think about what has us stuck and who will honestly and lovingly turn our holding patterns into wound-licking and our wound-licking into newness.
It’s a good day for newness.